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Ceres Wins $5M Grant to Develop High-Yielding, Low-Input Energy Grasses

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — November 10, 2009 — Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. announced today that it plans to expand an advanced trait development project to increase biomass yields of several energy grasses by as much as 40% in coming years, while simultaneously decreasing the use of inputs such as nitrogen fertilizers. The project, which was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) from among 3,700 renewable energy proposals, will be funded in part by a $5 million advanced research grant.

Created in 2007 by the America Competes Act, the prestigious grant program is managed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), a DOE organization modeled after the long-heralded defense organization, DARPA, which helped launch a number of revolutionary new technologies, including a precursor to today’s Internet. Similar to the DARPA review process, Ceres’ technology was examined by leading U.S. energy science and technology experts and ARPA-E's own program managers. Evaluations were based on the potential for high impact as well as scientific and technical merit.

“Low-input traits developed through modern genetics can provide wide-reaching benefits to the energy and agricultural sectors as well as the environment — just the type of transformational impact energy officials are looking for,” said Ceres chief scientific officer Richard Flavell.

Projections indicate that the Ceres traits alone could displace 1.3 billion barrels of oil and 58 million tons of coal over a ten year period. Depending on cropping practices, 1.2 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer could be eliminated (about the amount of nitrogen needed for 24 million acres of cotton), among other benefits.

“At the heart of our ambitions for a full-scale bioenergy industry will be how well we utilize our land resources,” said Richard Hamilton, Ceres chief executive.  “With greater use of technology, increased productivity will go hand-in-hand with greater sustainability.” He noted that higher yields reduce the land area needed to support individual projects. Hardier, higher yielding seed varieties could also sequester more carbon and expand the area where economic yields can be obtained – so-called marginal acres.

The three-year project is expected to begin next month. Ceres researchers will test its advanced traits in a variety of energy grasses such as switchgrass, sorghum and miscanthus. Productivity and inputs requirements, such as fertilizer, will be evaluated as well as expected improvements to carbon and nitrogen cycles. Upon successful completion, the Ceres traits would undergo a customary evaluation by USDA prior to full commercialization.

About Ceres
Ceres, Inc. is a leading developer of high-yielding, dedicated energy crops that can be grown as feedstocks for advanced biofuel production and biopower. Its development efforts cover switchgrass, high-biomass sorghum, sweet sorghum, miscanthus and energycane. Ceres holds one of the world’s largest proprietary collections of fully-sequenced plant genes and has established the world’s largest trialing network for energy grasses. Ceres markets its seed products under its Blade Energy Crops brand.

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